Thursday, June 23, 2005

"Knowledge sharing" at the source - trainees teach the trainers

Yesterday I witnessed something truly wonderful in the library.

First a bit of background information. We have been "using" trainee library assistants for five years to bolster our (tiny) staff numbers. They come to us for one year, work and learn on the job, and leave us with a basic certificate qualification. It is really awful when it is time to turn over the trainees - in most cases, they have become valued members of the team and it seems pretty heartless to unceremoniously replace them each year (they often induct their own replacements!). However, the good news is that we have been able to retain most of our trainees as support staff. However I digress.

Three of our permanent library assistants are also pursuing higher certificate courses. Two of these are near the end of the course and are completing a module on "multi media". One of their tasks is to produce a simple Powerpoint presentation about some aspect of the library service. Neither of these seasoned staffers have ever used Powerpoint. And this is what I saw that so affected me:

As I was wandering through the cataloguing room I saw one of the trainees and one of the library assistants hunched over a computer. The trainee, a mature aged lady who knows how Powerpoint works because she previously worked in a school environment (my 8 year old has just completed a Powerpoint project but I digress again), was guiding the permanent staff member through the steps. They were so intense in this task that they barely noticed me going by.

I continued on into my office which I had given over to the other library assistant so that she could use my computer (did I mention our library is really small?) and there the scene was repeated with another trainee, this time a 16 year old fresh out of high school, teaching our longest serving staff member how to do Powerpoint. And I thought (later) that this was an excellent example of spontaneous, non-hierarchical "knowledge sharing" which could be an analogy for how libraries do/could/should facilitate the sharing of knowledge in their communities.

A colleague from another section once asked whether we trained our trainees or exploited them. I replied without hesitation "both". But I hope we exploit them in the nicest way.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Youth Space/Youth Library - can it work?

In our quiet coastal town, a potentially revolutionary experiment is about to take place - the creation of a combined Youth Centre/Youth Library. Not a youth centre with a library corner or a bulk collection, but a TRULY integrated service with the Library Service and Youth Service as full and equal partners. Not attached to the main library which is several streets away. But in a highly visible shopfront location in "Main Street". With hours that suit young people (as surveyed, after school/evenings/weekends). And staffed by youth workers AND library staff who will either have or acquire cross disciplinary skills. And I'm as excited/frightened as hell. Can it work? Can it attain both the wanted outcomes of the youth workers and the library service? What are the similarities/where do the tensions lie? These are all being worked out and will continue to be learned and modified as the experiment progresses.

The youth/human service workers are challenging our (ie librarians) assertions that libraries are truly inclusive. And certainly challenging our skills in managing challenging behaviours. Their perspectives are confronting at first and evoke defensive reactions (Of course we're inclusive! Everyone is welcome! And it's a library, people know how to behave in a library, if they don't they're asked to leave! If they cause trouble we call the police!) But as they quite correctly point out, a proportion of the population don't relate to libraries at all. (What a timely post - thanks Ivan for blogging this:

To cater for this we have decided very consciously not to call the space a library. Maybe by using this strategy we will reach those young people who will be using a library service without being conscious of it. And once it's not called a library, a lot of the built-in expectations that are carried in that word go out the window. Even more daunting, when you designate a space that is especially for 12 -25 year olds, you have to have a whole raft of "risk management" strategies in place that are significantly different or at least more intense than those needed in the institution we know of as "the library".

The youth workers are exceptionally concerned that young people already on the edge of the mainstream and suffering from disengagement from society are not tempted into the space with all its goodies (music cds, DVDs, computers and console games, premium bookstock and magazines), only to be told they are not "acceptable" in terms of their ID for a membership card, family status, or testing behaviour. It would be very easy to turn them away and boost our statistics with "mainstream" kids who we know will come anyway. The inherent tensions will either be resolved with mutual benefit or will split the services apart to go their own ways once more. I think public librarians everywhere may be interested in the outcome.

Eventually young people grow up. Part of the long term success will be whether the "non-traditional library users" make the transition to our main library services. Or maybe our main library services will never be a good fit for everyone. If the experiment is wildly successful, the logical next step would be to cover other age groups. Should we lose the moniker of "library" and integrate with community centres? Would our identity as librarians be too threatened by this?

How about the youth/human service workers? Will they be challenged and confronted too? I think they will. I think they are having to change their perceptions that libraries/librarians are rule-bound disciplinarians only catering to the middle class. And that books and even electronic media are all we're interested in. I try to explain that libraries are interested and actively promote person to person communication - or peer to peer information sharing if you like. It means shifting the definition of library that legitimates young people just "hanging out" without necessarily interacting with any library resources. And extension activities like workshops, art displays, etc etc. which of course we already engage young people with. And maybe, just maybe, switching young people onto libraries as essential parts of their lifestyle/survival mechanisms.

Will keep you posted.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Interesting speeches continued...

The next speaker for the evening was Sue Hutley who is Manager of the University of Queensland Ipswich Campus Library. She spoke about the general characteristics of the different generations who use libraries and who work in libraries. "Baby Boomers" for instance are said to value variety, freedom, cooperation, achievement, etc. (who doesn't?); Gen x and yers are supposed to value lifestyle, fun, self discovery, unstructured, interactive, creative work places (again, who doesn't?). Maybe because I'm on the younger side of Baby Booming I take issue with these stereotypes. Isn't it just possible that as you get older, rather than remaining frozen solid in the culture you happened to inherit due to your age, you actually filter and absorb a whole lot of other cultures including the culture of your parents and of the younger generations? I enjoy Triple J music just as much as I still like the stuff I listened to in the 70s 80s and 90s (well, some stuff I liked in the 70s I really hate now) as well as the music that my 13 year old is switching me on to. And he is being introduced to the classic heavy metal that my husband enjoyed (and continues to enjoy) and he loves that as well. And I'm sure some of my 60,70+ library users value creativity, freedom, and unstructuredness just as much as the Gen xers are supposed to. So maybe there are indeed people who prefer different styles of leisure, learning and work but I think there is a certain amount of homogenisation going on, rather than banding strictly according to age. To market according strictly to age stereotypes is maybe a mistake for libraries (or indeed any other sort of business or service). That's not to say all libraries should be one flavour, one size fits all (which we know doesn't work), but just not to get hung up on the age thing. It's more about communities of interest that could involve lots of different agegroups. And as agencies for building social capital maybe it's public libraries who could consider ways of bringing the generations together, rather than separating them.

Finally we had a speech from Central Queensland University lecturer Greg Whymark who posed the question "Is Knowledge Management an Oxymoron?", which is a topic much debated. He posited that librarians are a subset of "knowledge workers" - people who: find existing knowledge, and/or create new knowledge, and/or package existing knowledge, and/or apply knowledge to a process or problem. His speech was quite witty and entertaining so I didn't take many notes. However the Big News is that the CQU is introducing a Masters Degree in Knowledge Management which, while not exclusively aimed at librarians, will be accredited by ALIA. This is great news for me as I have been considering a Masters Degree for some time and this one seems spot on for my interests.

After that exercise I have learned something about blogging. It is a great way to consolidate and add value to a professional development experience.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Summary of ALIA President's talk on Professional Development

As promised (to self) here is a summary of the speech given by Gilliam Hallam to Central Queensland librarians during her visit to celebrate Library and Information Week: (this is how I heard/interpreted it, any errors or omissions are purely mine)

The fact that a couple of major library schools in Oz have closed down is maybe a warning signal to the profession (ie the Uni of NSW is no longer offering the Masters degree and the University of Canberra is closing down the undergrad degree which is particularly worrying given that Canberra as the seat of the National Library has a relatively large librarian population). Major impacts on our profession include ICT and the demographic changes in our users. Questions which the Association are asking are: What are the required skillsets for librarians in the future? How do we as a profession attract the right people? Employers have indicated that they want employees who are ready to hit the ground running, combining discipline knowledge with generic/transferable knowledge like how to work effectively in an organisation. A perception survey of Queensland University of Technology library school students found that the number 1 motivator for taking the course was to get a job. The number 2 motivator was an interest in ICT. Much further down the list were an interest in books etc. The attrition rate amongst QUT library students is a concern to the institution, showing a mismatch in expectations. Interestingly Charles Sturt University, which offers the post grad diploma externally, currently has around 700 students. There is a worry however that if there are only a few universities offering library courses then there will be little diversity in the profession, resulting in only a limited "flavour" of graduates in Australia. Another interesting conundrum is the degree course for library technicians being offered by Edith Cowan University - how do they become librarians? Is there a danger of "credential creep?"

It has also been calculated that 60% of Australian librarians are eligible for retirement in the next 10 years. Where will the new grads come from? And where will the academics come from to train them?

Lots of interesting stuff to consider.

I am now being bugged by my 13 year old who must get on to join one of his gaming forums (to play against guys in the US and Canada). Timing is all important. But I mustn't complain as he gives me lots of info that is extremely relevant to do with our youth library. So more on the interesting speeches in following blogs.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

So much to blog about, so little time...

Phew! Blogging is hard work! After fighting off an 8 year old and a 13 year old for use of the computer, reading all the other great blogs, watching the time because the dog demands to be taken for a walk at 5 am (yes, that's pre-dawn in this part of the world), there's precious little time to post one's own blog. I really admire those prolific bloggers who craft such well thought out posts.

Last Thursday night I attended a function organised by the ALIA new grads as an activity for Library and Information Week at Central Queensland University. It was the first local ALIA function held in Central Queensland for around 10 years and it was great to see and catch up with the 30 or so uni, special and public librarians for some very interesting and erudite speeches by visiting ALIA exec members and also the rather tough but entertaining library trivia contest put together by Rockhampton public librarian Cheryl. It was professionally stimulating and I intend to blog about it (I really do) but right now I have to read "The Twits" to my son. So goodnight.